AOP urges digital industry to help combat illegal data scraping

The decline of tracking cookies has sparked a need for more accurate first-party data to understand customer behaviour. However, the AOP claims unscrupulous tech vendors are jeopardising the future of data by stealing publishers’ IP.

The Association of Online Publishers (AOP) has published an open letter to the digital industry enlisting support for a united stance against illegal data scraping practices.

Due to the need for media quality assurance and the decline of third-party cookie use fuelling demand for alternative targeting methods like contextual advertising, publishers have enabled content verification vendors additional data access.

According to the AOP, some unscrupulous vendors have leveraged this as an opportunity to extend their tech beyond its legitimate purpose, collecting publisher metadata and article text to build contextual audience segments for their own commercial gain – without permission.

This is achieved by “packing unseen extra tags into authorised in-header wrappers, or running user agents (bots) to crawl open published domains”.

As this is essentially theft of publishers’ intellectual property, Richard Reeves, the AOP’s Managing Director, is urging agencies and advertisers to be more stringent with holding these tech vendors accountable for their actions.

Reeves said: “Sustaining a healthy digital media ecosystem means ensuring equal value for all participants. While better recognition of consumers as data owners has driven vital changes in privacy regulation and cemented a consent-based online value exchange, failure to protect publisher data is still putting future stability at risk.”

Theft of publishers’ IP

Nefarious first-party data extraction is not only theft of publishers’ IP, but also negatively impacts advertisers and agencies. As there are no guarantees that data used to verify media and serve contextual ads to an audience is licensed or accurate, buyers are left needing to question the legitimacy, quality and integrity of the data fuelling their ad campaigns.

Reeves said of this theft’s influence: “This is undoubtedly an endemic problem that places the entire digital media space in jeopardy. With their competitive advantage depleting, many publishers are struggling to secure crucial ad revenue, leaving them less able to support premium content environments where advertisers can reach desirable audiences, safely.”

Addressing the issue

With this issue having plagued the industry for over two years, the AOP has collaborated with the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) to combat the problem.

In response, TAG has updated its Brand Safety Certification to include clearer definitions around appropriate applications of publisher data, specifically differentiating between legitimate and illegitimate data use.

To further help resolve the issue, the AOP is calling for advertisers and agencies to join them in pushing towards two new goals:

1. Help publishers act against bad actors: Buyers are in a unique position to influence verification intermediaries. As contract holders, they have an opportunity to demand valid proof that intermediaries have obtained official licences before collating publisher IP, as well as the ability to decline partnerships with those unable to do so.

2. Engage in unified discussions: Advertisers and agencies must take a seat around the consultation table. Participating in open discussions with TAG and bodies such as the AOP will enable them to better understand risks posed to every area of the ecosystem, and investigate mutually beneficial measures.

The AOP’s letter states that data leakage is becoming a growing concern, particularly because first-party data is viewed as a possible replacement for cookies, meaning demand for context-based advertising will only increase.

Reeves concluded: “We are standing on the precipice of murkiness, which could herald more uncertainty and lawless data use. The AOP feels there is still time to avoid this fate by coming together, which is why we are calling on the industry to step up.

“At minimum, greater engagement in conversations with practitioners across the sector is paramount. More tangibly, buyers need to start using their power to protect and cultivate a transparent ecosystem for the future. If they want to keep placing ads beside premium, trusted and high-quality online content, advertisers and agencies must start boycotting any vendors unable to demonstrate that the contextual data they use has been obtained fairly, with consent.”

Read the full letter here